So, I read two more kids' fantasy books and enjoyed both:
Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress: At first, I wasn't sure what I thought of this book. I blame the publisher, who chose a rather misleading (though very cool) title and cover, which implied that this was a pirate adventure. We learn very early in the story that the Ironic Gentleman is a pirate ship, but much of the book is Alex *getting to* the pirate ship. So, because I was assuming it was a pirate adventure, the side stories on the way seemed meandering and off-topic. But what a fun journey! Kress's voice is enjoyable, earnest and adding fun asides in the Dear Reader tradition. The story seems timeless and placeless, and whimsy added to even the mundane aspects (Alex's interrogation at the police station, for instance) make the story move along easily and encourage suspension of disbelief. I had a lot of fun reading this. In a nutshell, it's the story of Alex, a 10 and a half year old girl (often mistaken for a boy due to her bowl haircut and name) who sets out to rescue her sixth grade teacher, a descendent of pirates who has been kidnapped by the descendent of rival pirates (still with me?). Along the way, she encounters a number of original and funny obstacles and meets truly memorable characters, like the Extremely Ginormous Octopus, who is a frustrated actor, Giggles the cat, and a quintet of scary old ladies. I had a lot of fun reading this. The pirate Steele is a complex villain and Alex is a fun heroine who manages very well on her own against all these obstacles.
Iris, Messenger by Sarah Deming: Holly brought this book to my attention. It's another Greek god juvenile fantasy, but is really completely different from the Percy Jackson series. For one thing, I could be wrong, but I don't think it's the start of a series. All the loose ends were tied up at the end and it seemed like a self-contained story. We'll see. Deming is a very good writer and Iris is an engaging girl. (By the way, here's another publisher-related annoyance--the cover shows Irish being held by a boy--it looks like he's rescuing her or something, but that NEVER happens in the book. What? There's actually a girl who can stand on her own as the hero of a book, and the publisher has to make it look like a boy is actually the hero?) Iris is a dreamer who doesn't have friends at her middle school. She is sent a mysterious birthday gift, a copy of Bulfinch's mythology, with directions on how to find the Greek gods (who now live incognito in suburban Pennsylvania), who need her help. Each god she meets tells her a story (an actual myth from Bulfinch, but with funny asides and dialogue) that leads her to an unexpected truth. This was a fun, well-written fantasy and really enjoyable.
I also read a romance series by Susan Mallery. It's the Buchanans series, four books, each one about one of the Buchanan siblings (if you've read trilogies by Nora Roberts or the like, you know the drill). The Buchanans own restaurants, which is an interesting milieu. They're pretty good, with some wildly unbelievable plot twists, but hey, they're romance novels, so whatever. They're not laugh-out-loud funny like Janet Evanovich, but there are some chuckles. The first one is Delicious, then Irresistible, then Sizzling, then Tempting. (Holly, I'll be sending these your way along with knitting mysteries.)
I'm reading Flush, Carl Hiassen's second YA novel right now and enjoying it. His first, Hoot, was a Newbery Honor Book, and I really liked it. I'll put up a review when I'm done.